European Commission Proposes New Environmental Policy Framework Through 2020

On November 29, 2012, the European Commission unveiled a new Environmental Action Programme (EAP), Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020.  The title of the proposed EAP is “Living well, within the limits of our planet[.]”  The thirty-seven page document outlines the Commission’s environmental policy goals through the end of 2020 in areas ranging from land conservation to environmentally sustainable economic growth.  According to Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, the EAP “has the three-fold aim of achieving an inclusive green economy, whilst protecting our natural capital and the health of our citizens.”  The EAP identifies nine “priority objectives” to complement existing EU initiatives to protect the environment and move towards a greener economy.  Key elements of these objectives are summarized below.

1. “[T]o protect, conserve, and enhance the Union’s natural capital[.]”  The European Union’s (EU’s) natural capital includes ecosystems based on soil, water, and forests.  The EAP calls for the maintenance of biodiversity through the full implementation of existing initiatives, such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources.  Other recommended actions include complying with EU legislation on air quality, and limiting releases of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer and wastewater.

2. “[T]o turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy[.]”  In order to maximize resource efficiency and lower carbon emissions throughout the EU, the EAP proposes a number of actions including the implementation of the Climate and Energy Package, which commits the EU to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and increases in energy efficiency and production from renewables.  The EAP also proposes research into the implementation of environmentally sound technologies, and calls for product legislation to consider the environmental impact of goods over their entire life cycles.

3. “[T]o safeguard the Union’s citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing[.]”  According to the EAP, EU citizens would benefit from the implementation of policies that target the sources of air and noise pollution.  Carrying out existing initiatives on drinking and bathing water standards would further boost citizens’ health.  The proposal also calls for further research into the impact of human exposure to chemicals and toxicity.

4. “[T]o maximise the benefits of the Union’s environment legislation[.]”  The implementation of EU environmental laws could be improved by establishing networks within individual EU member states to publicize information on the steps being taken to carry out environmental policies, as well as building capacity at the member state level to address implementation-related complaints.

5. “[T]o improve the evidence base for environmental policy[.]”  In order to ensure that environmental policies are based comprehensive, up-to-date scientific awareness, the EU and individual member states should channel research resources toward particular “knowledge gaps,” including the development of modeling tools related to climate change and systemic risk.

6. “[T]o secure investment for environmental and climate policy and get the prices right[.]”  According to the EAP, the market is currently sending price signals that are out of sync with true environmental costs.  Ways to address this mismatch include phasing out subsidies that harm the environment, and revamping the tax structure to focus on taxing pollution, rather than labor.

7. “[T]o improve environmental integration and policy coherence[.]”  Environmental policies could be integrated more effectively with EU objectives in other areas such as fisheries, agriculture, and infrastructure.  The impact of these other initiatives could be systemically assessed prior to implementation to evaluate coherence with environmental policies.

8. “[T]o enhance the sustainability of the Union’s cities[.]”  The EU population is becoming increasingly urbanized, and EU cities would benefit from the establishment of criteria to evaluate their environmental sustainability.

9. “[T]o increase the Union’s effectiveness in confronting regional and global environmental challenges[.]”  The EAP proposes actions to strengthen EU participation in efforts to address regional and international environmental threats, such as working with the United Nations to improve the international framework for sustainable development, and continuing to include environmental provisions in EU international trade agreements.

Under Article 192(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the EAP must be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in order to become EU law.  If adopted, it will become the EU’s seventh EAP.  A one-page summary of the Proposal prepared by the Commission explains that the program could enter into force “as early as 2013.”

The EU’s sixth EAP expired in July 2012.

Written by Cherie Tremaine, GIELR staff